Unsafe patient care has been exposed in the maternity wards of some NHS Trusts in England and Wales.
Hospital cultures where ‘natural births’ are encouraged (non-induced normal vaginal deliveries, without drugs for pain relief and without medical interventions such as the use of forceps, ventouse or caesarean section), have been found to have failed mothers and babies by ignoring the risks in some circumstances.
The maternity scandal in Shropshire, for example, found that medical staff were reluctant to perform caesarean sections.
The highly publicised investigation exposed a culture that had an “over zealous pursuit of natural births”.
When a natural birth causes serious harm
The investigation into serious failings in the maternity services delivered at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust found that:
- 201 babies could have survived with better medical care – including 131 stillbirths and 70 neonatal deaths
- Staff were reluctant to perform c-sections
- Traumatic forceps deliveries caused skull fractures and broken bones
- Some significantly injured babies developed cerebral palsy as a result
- Some babies suffered oxygen deprivation leading to lifelong brain damage
Natural childbirth is not always in the best interest of a mother or baby. Cases should be considered on an individual basis with national guidelines followed, and medical knowledge around patient safety superseding natural birth targets.
Evolution has resulted in the human head being larger so there is now a higher risk of a baby’s head getting stuck during a vaginal delivery.
Open discussions with parents around vaginal deliveries
Natural childbirth can pose a significant risk to a baby in certain circumstances. Failing to identify, and act on, red flags that indicate that progressing with natural childbirth would place mother and baby at risk of serious harm, may lead to catastrophic outcomes.
The risks and options should be fully discussed. A caesarean section may prove the safest choice in certain circumstances.
When natural childbirth can be dangerous
Medical intervention may be required despite a healthy pregnancy progressing normally and being considered low risk.
Careful, and diligent, monitoring of both mother and baby will minimise the risk of harm alongside open discussions around all the options available – with safety being a driving factor.
Most common risks
There are some high-risk circumstances that may occur including:
- Uterine Rupture – this is rare however, it is the most dangerous obstetric complication where the wall or lining of a mother’s uterus tears open. It can occur suddenly, and without warning
- Shoulder dystocia – a baby’s shoulder can become stuck during delivery requiring emergency intervention
- Umbilical cord prolapse – this is when the umbilical cord drops into the birth canal in front of the baby’s head and becomes compressed as the baby’s head drops down
- Chorioamnionitis – this is an infection of the baby’s membranes and of the amniotic fluid; it can spread to the baby. It can cause premature delivery and is also an important cause of cerebral palsy
- Fetal macrosomia – this is the scientific term for a baby who is much larger than average making a natural birth high risk
- Intrapartum haemorrhage – bleeding from the placenta, either because it lies in front of the cervical opening (placenta previa) or because it detaches from the uterine wall too early (placental abruption)
Signs of the baby being in distress may rule out a vaginal delivery
A pregnancy must be monitored throughout as something may go wrong even in low-risk pregnancies.
There are different scenarios that may lead to a baby showing signs of being in distress. In some circumstances, an emergency c-section may be the only sensible choice.
Size matters when considering natural childbirth
Giving birth vaginally may not be possible if the baby is simply too large to safely deliver via natural childbirth.
Medical staff should openly discuss the options and the risks involved in these circumstances. A planned caesarean section may be the safest option to avoid significant harm to both mother and baby.
Delivering a healthy, unharmed child via the safest method should be the only concern.
Hospital cultures promoting natural childbirth
It has been reported that some hospitals have a culture where natural childbirth is actively encouraged.
A vaginal birth should only be promoted if it is safe. A mother should be fully consulted with all the options, and associated risks, discussed.
Progressing with a natural birth should not be a given as it may not be the safest option in all circumstances.
Guilt free patient safety
A pregnancy, and the period before, during, or just after a baby is born, is a joyful time however, medical staff should be carefully monitoring both mother and baby throughout.
A pregnancy that may be considered as being low risk, and may have progressed without incident, may still develop into a high-risk situation.
In some circumstances, progressing with a birth naturally is simply not advisable. Mothers should never feel any guilt about how their baby entered the world.
Giving birth when medical interventions are required
Pregnancy and giving birth requires monitoring by medical professionals. In some instances, medical intervention is needed if a baby is showing signs of distress for example.
Natural childbirth may not always be possible or may prove a higher risk to the baby’s safety if time is of the essence.
Delivering an unharmed child should be the only priority with all delivery options to achieve this openly discussed.
Natural childbirth is not the only choice
Critical conversations with medical professionals throughout a pregnancy are key, including understanding what could happen should an emergency situation unexpectedly arise.
Complications may present before, during, or just after a baby is born. Medical professionals have a duty to clearly explain to parents what should happen, and all the options and risks should an unexpected risk present itself.
Normal birth perceptions
Perceptions of what a ‘normal birth’ involves may vary. Some may consider a ‘normal birth’ as a vaginal delivery with no pain relief.
Childbirth is a personal experience, and no two circumstances are the same. The key consideration is what is best for mother and baby and a method that minimises the risk of harm.
It is unhelpful for a mother to be placed under pressure to deliver her child via natural childbirth.
The medical professionals involved are responsible for advising on the safest option in individual circumstances – no two babies, nor any two pregnancies, are the same.
Signs that a baby is in distress may rule out a natural birth
If a baby is showing signs of distress before, or during their delivery, progressing with natural childbirth may pose a significant risk of harm.
Signs of an infection, the baby’s heart rate returning concerning results, or the baby getting stuck during a natural birth, are some examples of when medical intervention may be required.
In these emergency situations, delivering the baby in a timely manner becomes critical and a caesarean section may be the safest option to prevent serious harm.
When natural childbirth can cause catastrophic injuries
If both mother and baby are monitored diligently, any signs of distress, or that things are not as they should be, will prompt a response from the care providers.
Potentially dangerous circumstances can be pre-empted with timely medical intervention. This may mean that natural childbirth is ruled out.
Listening to patient concerns around natural birth
A pregnant woman may instinctively feel that something isn’t right. It is important that they feel heard by the medical professionals involved in their care and that all concerns are discussed and investigated.
If natural childbirth is considered too risky, the options and what that means should be openly discussed.
Sometimes, time is of the essence and an emergency situation means that timely medical intervention is critical.
If the medical professionals involved continue to press for a natural birth, and there are concerns around whether it would be the safest method, parents must feel heard, and their options clearly explained.
A traumatic birth experience should be prevented
Starting or growing a family is a joyful time and a baby’s birth should be appropriately supported to avoid a traumatic birth experience.
When the appropriate level of patient care is provided, any trauma or serious injury is avoided.
Families who have experienced a traumatic birth experience leading to catastrophic outcomes should consider starting a birth injury claim.
When natural childbirth causes permanent harm
If a baby experiences a lack of oxygen due to any delays when an emergency c-section may have been a safer alternative, lifelong disabilities including cerebral palsy, may be the outcome.
Red flags that progressing with a natural birth should have been reviewed, and alternatives considered and discussed, are when a baby is delivered in a poor condition, their skin may have an abnormal colour, they may be floppy and may make unusual sounds. They may require resuscitation to get them breathing effectively or to support their circulation
Making a claim when a natural birth was not the safest route
Extensive media coverage has highlighted the serious risks when NHS Trusts push the natural birth agenda – with devastating outcomes.
Families who have trusted the medical staff involved to have patient safety at the heart of the care provided, can be left blaming themselves.
It can be difficult to question the professionals trusted during such a vulnerable time. If a baby has been seriously harmed following a natural birth, parents have a right to know why.
Claiming compensation when a baby suffers serious injury
Finding out exactly what happened is important, but sadly the truth is not always readily provided.
Often, families have to fight to get the answers they need, and the compensation that they are entitled to, if medical negligence is suspected.
What if natural childbirth was a mistake?
Giving birth vaginally may be the advice provided during a normal, low risk pregnancy. Natural childbirth will be a perfectly safe method for most mothers and babies.
Unexpected circumstances may present just before, or during a natural birth, that may signal that a c-section is required to prevent a devastating injury.
The baby may get stuck during a natural birth or show signs of distress signalling for timely medical intervention.
If the baby is too large for a safe vaginal birth to proceed, however, a mother is not advised or is dissuaded of the alternative, compensation may be pursued for the resulting injuries.
Where to turn when natural childbirth causes serious harm
If a baby has suffered permanent injuries leading to their death, or permanent disabilities following a natural birth, and there were signs this should not have progressed, contacting birth injury experts is strongly advised.
It is sadly common that families in these desperately sad situations find that there is a lack of transparency around the care provided. Getting to the bottom of why their baby suffered serious harm shouldn’t be difficult, but the reality is it often is without the right help.
Birth injury specialists will look into exactly what happened throughout a pregnancy and the period before, during, and after a child’s birth.
Medical records, scans and test results are carefully considered working with a team of independent medical experts.
Knowing why a baby has suffered significant harm after a natural birth
When a young patient suffers avoidable harm, their needs may mean 24-hour care, a regular mix of different therapies, specialist equipment, and adapted, or new, accommodation.
Seeking legal advice in these circumstances will help families obtain the honest answers they need. Pursuing a birth injury claim will also help to secure the compensation needed to meet an injured child’s lifelong care needs.
Which solicitor for a birth injury following natural childbirth
Medical interventions should be progressed when a situation arises ruling out a natural birth as the safest method of delivering a baby.
When a high-risk situation is not met with appropriate, and timely medical intervention, catastrophic injuries may occur.
It is crucial for families in these distressing situations to instruct the right solicitor for their family.
The compensation process may take time as these claims are often complex, and hard fought. Having a legal specialist, you are comfortable with, and one with a proven track record of winning birth injury claims, will alleviate some of the stress.
Contact leading birth injury expert Diane Rostron
Diane Rostron is a seasoned complex birth injury solicitor working with a team of independent medical professionals and barristers.
The team of parents offer empathetic legal representation guiding families through truly difficult times to get to the truth of what happened to their child.
Professionals you can rely on when natural childbirth should not have been progressed
An unwavering commitment to delivering the best possible outcomes for families in these challenging circumstances, Diane Rostron has a strong record of settling £multi-million claims.
The team have secured substantial compensation for children even when the odds seemed against them.
This has included historic incidents involving missing medical records, cases where other law firms had spent years investigating and had given up, and when the NHS Trusts involved present additional challenges, such as altering notes.
Starting a birth injury claim to hold a hospital accountable takes strength in challenging circumstances. Our team of specialists are here to listen, and to help.